As I finish this past weekend I am amazed by three things about Rotary:
1) How exciting Rotex students are,
2) How welcoming other Rotary families can be, and
3) How much the Tochigi Rotarians are watching out for me.
The two days I spent visiting Utsunomiya and Tochigi City were a true blast. I mean that in both the fun slang way and in the fact that they absolutely flew by.
On Saturday morning my host mom and I loaded into the car and drove the hour-long trip to the capital city of Tochigi Prefecture, Utsunomiya. Being a city of only about 500,000 people it felt much larger once we arrived. We met Max Beard (the Rotary exchange student from Florida who is staying with a family in downtown Utsunomiya), Ayano Baba (the Rotex girl who studied in Minnesota a few years ago) and Mai Maruyama (a Rotex who went to South Carolina). Together we spent the day exploring the area. Our first stop was to visit a hilltop temple squeezed between a shopping center and a construction site. It was a beautiful location yet the surrounding sounds of horns, sirens, and city life seemed to take away from the peace of the shrines. I couldn’t help but feel that this wasn’t the way that the founders of the temple meant for it to be enjoyed.
Ayano is originally from Utsunomiya, so she was an excellent tour guide taking us to a scenic park, the top of the Utsunomiya Tower, and across a suspension bridge. Afterwards we went out to a fun shopping street where we took pirikura photo-booth pictures, ate gyoza dumplings for which Utsunomiya is famous, and gelato in the basement of a shopping mall.
We finally said good-bye when they dropped us off at Max’s host family’s house. I am incredibly grateful for the fun afternoon that they showed us. I say Max’s host family lives in a house, but in reality they live in a temple. Max’s host dad is the keeper of a GIGANTIC temple that has to be one of the biggest homes in the whole city! If I said that Mr. Inaki and his family were welcoming to me that would be an understatement. I immediately presented them with a small gift of photo-letters that my sister made back in Minnesota. They loved the fall colors and right then and there I was invited back to their house whenever I wanted to come to Utsunomiya. I guess you took some really good pictures, Maria! They then insisted on taking Max and I out for a second dinner at a very chic sushi restaurant where the dishes pass in front of your table and you simply grab the ones that look best. We ate so much I nearly burst. Hey, there are worse ways to die!
The evening was spent watching a Japanese hide-and-go-seek reality TV show on their 75” plasma screen TV, chatting in Japanese, and being feed even more food and ice cream! When Max and I went upstairs to our futons later that night we were both full, exhausted, and laughing at our luck. We realized that we’re in JAPAN, eating Japanese food, meeting Japanese people, and falling asleep in a gigantic temple in the middle of a city! You never know where Rotary is going to take you.
Continue below for Sunday’s story…